Jeff Merkley, the son of a millwright and first in his family to attend college, has spent his whole life fighting for the public interest. Born in Myrtle Creek, Oregon and spending his childhood in Roseburg, Merkley knows what it’s like to live in both rural and urban Oregon and represents all of Oregon in his work in the United States Senate. His policy education came first from his father, Darrell, who after work each day would read the newspaper, watch the evening news, and run a commentary on how we could improve our nation. Growing up in a middle-class family, Merkley stands firmly on the side of working people during these tough economic times.
Merkley’s public service began as a 19-year-old intern with Oregon’s former Senator, Mark O. Hatfield. Never in Merkley’s wildest dreams did he anticipate that he would return to the Senate 33 years later to represent Oregon in Hatfield’s former seat. He considers it a great honor and a great challenge.
Between Merkley’s college internship on Capitol Hill and his election to the U.S. Senate in 2008, Merkley immersed himself in public service. As a national security analyst at the Pentagon and at the Congressional Budget Office, Merkley contributed to the dialogue on responsible management of nuclear weapons. In 1991 Merkley returned to Oregon to lead Portland’s Habitat for Humanity, which works to empower low-income families through home ownership. Merkley later served as President of the Oregon World Affairs Council, expanding the K-12 education program and launching an International Speakers Series that has brought dozens of distinguished leaders to Oregon such as Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama.
Merkley won his first campaign for State Representative in 1998. He was elected Democratic Leader in 2003 and Speaker in 2007. As Oregon’s House Speaker, Merkley emphasized replacing bitter partisan warfare with a culture of bipartisan problem solving. The result was a legislative session described by The Oregonian as "Oregon's most productive in a generation." The legislature increased education funding, expanded access to affordable prescription drugs, passed landmark environmental and energy legislation, established domestic partnerships, cracked down on predatory payday and title lending, and created Oregon’s first-ever rainy day fund.
Since his election to the United States Senate, Merkley has been focused on getting our nation back on track and Oregonians back to work. He has released a nationally recognized plan to eliminate overseas oil by 2030 by boosting deployment of electric vehicles, increase travel options and improve infrastructure, develop alternative transportation fuels and reduce the use of oil to heat buildings. To take on the high-risk Wall Street trading that got us into the financial crisis, Merkley worked with Senator Carl Levin of Michigan to include in the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act new limits on risky trading by banks. Merkley worked to end deceptive retail mortgage lending practices, and led successful efforts to pass a ban on both hidden steering payments to reward selling consumers high-risk and high-cost home loans, and on prepayment penalties, which locked people into those bad loans. Merkley also successfully included a provision in the 2010 health care reform law that ensures new mothers have the time and space to pump milk at work.
Merkley serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; the Environment and Public Works Committee; and the Budget Committee.
Merkley and his wife Mary Sorteberg have been married for nineteen years and have two children, Brynne and Jonathan.